Emily Samuelson competed at the highest level as an ice dancer over the course of her 15-year career, retiring after skating in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. But like many Olympians, she never earned enough to cover her expenses.
Her parents spent $50,000 a year on her sport, an investment she tried to pay back by giving them three-quarters of her winnings. She saved and invested the rest.
Samuelson, 26, knew that many Olympic friends struggled with money, and she saw an opportunity for a career after skating. She's now among a number of Olympians working in wealth management at big banks, which hope that the cachet of their athletic careers impresses prospective clients. UBS Wealth Management Americas, Bank of America's Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley all employ several retired Olympic athletes.
"I got addicted to saving, (and) I started investing at 14," said Samuelson, now a financial advisor for Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Michigan. "Good, honest direction is lacking in the Olympic sphere when it comes to finances."
Cheri Lytle, Merrill Lynch's head of advisor strategy and development, said Olympians like Samuelson are also appealing for their youth and work ethic.
Brokerages have hired thousands of trainees in recent years to build up a next generation of advisors, but about half drop out, according to media reports. Olympians are team-oriented and competitive people who have already achieved success in another career, often before 30.
Samuelson and two other Olympians told Reuters they liked Wall Street's competitive, eat-what-you-kill culture, along with paychecks that are bigger and more stable than their sports careers could offer.
After winning a silver medal in Taekwondo at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mark Lopez's training partner suggested he look to Wall Street for his next career.
"I can't kick forever," Lopez recalled telling himself before he joined UBS AG as a financial advisor in Houston in 2011.
Samuelson said her Olympic career has opened doors for her with prospective clients, who became more interested in talking after learning of her athletic background. Lopez also sees the promotional value of his athletic success: In his picture on the UBS website, he's holding his silver medal.